What is potting and encapsulation in electronics?
Potting and encapsulation are the two main techniques used to protect sensitive and critical electronic components from diverse threats, such as harsh environmental and climatic conditions, corrosive chemical aggression, vibrations, dust, exposure to heat and fire. They work alongside other protective techniques, such as conformal coating and sealing and bonding.
Potting is the process of filling (partially or completely) or embedding the electronic component or assembly in an enclosure with a resinous material such as silicone for the purpose of providing protection.
Encapsulation is a similar process to potting but differs because the component is generally dipped into a mold and then placed in a space, without necessarily filling the entire cavity. The purpose of encapsulation is therefore to create a protective “shell” around the component, without embedding it. It provides resistance to major threats, such as shock, vibration, moisture, corrosive agents and improves electrical insulation, flame retardancy and heat dissipation.
The benefits where silicones outperform epoxies or polyurethanes in potting and encapsulation:
- Heat resistance, temperature range – silicones offer better heat resistance, temperature range (-50° to 200°C and up to 300°C in some formulations)
- Flame retardant – Silicone is self-extinguishing, which is not the case for epoxies or polyurethanes.
- Thermal expansion – due its low hardness, silicone offers greater linear thermal expansion coefficients of approx. 3 × 10-4 m/(m K), much higher than other polymers.
- Elasticity –Silicone elastomers are particularly elastic because they are compounded using reactive, straight-chained molecules together with a cross-linking agents and reinforcement.
- Resistance to environmental hazards – silicones outperform all other potting and encapsulation materials in this category, in particular moisture and UV resistance, as well as ozone stability. These features, as well as heat resistance and a high temperature range (mentioned above) make silicones an ideal material for electronic systems in harsh environments.
- Vibration– in industrial applications, silicones offer great resistance to vibrations because they are softer and more flexible (low modulus). With their capacity to endure temperature changes and protect against corrosive substances, silicone are especially well suited to demanding closed spaces such as engine housings or turbines.
- Dielectric stability – silicones offer both excellent electrical insulation and sufficiently constant conductivity over a wide temperature and frequency range.
- Repairability – Silicone can be dissolved with solvents when necessary for reworking or repairing specific components.
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